Homosexuality and Traditional Christianity
February 16, 2009 — 18:44

Author: Robert Gressis  Category: Religion and Life  Comments: 29

I was going to write a post on the subject of the APA petition, but Andrew beat me to it. That said, I notice that on the Leiter thread, people in support of the petition are quite certain of the rectitude of their views, whereas people urging caution, or rejection, of the petition, use much more cautious/defensive language. Moreover, almost all of the people who support the petition use their real names, whereas many of the people opposed to it, or who urge caution regarding it, write in anonymously.
Assuming I’m right about this, I wonder what it amounts to? I think this:
Many, if not all, traditionally Christian (and, I imagine, Jewish and Muslim) philosophers are afraid of posting their thoughts on this matter. First, they are afraid of being personally attacked. “Fear of personal attacks” should be construed broadly: it doesn’t refer just to being scared of what your colleagues will say or think of you; it refers also to fear of the emotions that will arise within you upon being personally attacked. That is, you may be afraid that you will write something in emotion-induced haste.
Second, I bet a lot of traditional Christians are in fact unsure what is wrong with same-sex relations. They accept that people should not have sex with members of the same sex, and/or that people should not marry people of the same sex; but they don’t really accept or understand any of the rationales offered for why. Or perhaps even stronger, they side with a lot of the philosophers posting in Leiter’s thread, and their beliefs on this score are an abiding source of tension for them.
Third, assuming that philosophers in support of the petition will in fact personally attack someone who publicly defends the propriety of the APA’s position, is this behavior warranted? Many philosophers, including Christian philosophers of all stripes, seem to think that there are cases where personal attacks are appropriate. I can’t remember where she said this, but I recall G. E. M. Anscombe writing that there are some positions so corrupt that they shouldn’t be met with arguments but rather with disgust, condemnation, or something of that sort. I’m actually inclined to disagree with Anscombe on this score. I think that such condemnation is rarely productive in philosophical debate, and I think there are indeed good arguments that can be offered in favor of lots of positions that most people hold unreflectively (e.g., a lot of people look at necrophilia with disgust, and think that no one should engage in it. But why? I bet a lot of people won’t be able to offer very good answers to this, other than just to say that it’s disgusting. But a clever philosopher could quickly, I think, move most people to aporia over this). In other words, I think a lot of the philosophers posting in Leiter’s thread are not behaving as they should. But I might be rash in saying this–after all, how would I feel if people were defending philosophy departments that, say, required their theistic students to sign statements giving up their theism under threat of expulsion? I should think I’d be very dispirited if even a few philosophers supported such a notion, and I would quite possibly describe them as bigoted. Of course, under such circumstances I don’t think it would be appropriate to use such language, even though I think it would be factually correct.
EDIT: I should add, in elaborating my third point, that I thought it inappropriate to make personal attacks on people at least when you are trying to convince them of the wrongness of their position. Thus, calling discriminating Christian universities bigoted in the comments section of The Leiter Reports is not itself inappropriate, and, to the extent that the language is factually correct, fine, perhaps even to be encouraged. Now that I think about things a little more, though, whether it’s appropriate to call a person bigoted depends not only on whether he actually is bigoted, but also on whether such remarks are liable to convince him. There could definitely be some people who, when described as bigoted by people of good will, will rethink their positions. In such cases, then, calling a spade a spade is fine, perhaps even recommendable.
Nonetheless, though, I think there’s a kind of civility that it’s important to maintain in such arguments, at least when you’re writing to someone. You don’t want someone to accept your position out of fear, and you don’t want them to reject your position out of defensiveness. Instead, you should want, if you’re a philosopher, your interlocutors to focus on the reasons you offer for your position rather than on the consequences that their beliefs and conduct will have on your assessments of them.

Comments:
  • The Anscombe is from “Modern Moral Philosophy”: “But if someone really thinks, in advance, that it is open to question whether such an action as procuring the judicial execution of the innocent should be quite excluded from considerationҀ‘-I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind.”
    The article is full of nice ad hominem material like that. I think it’s worth noting that she is not talking to those people in MMP; her ad hominem bits are not voiced at their targets. They are ways of speaking of a third party. Which is different than what happens in comment threads, since anyone can show up. (It’s not crazy to still dislike this, but I think it’s worth pausing at, in a way that comment thread attacks are not.)

    February 16, 2009 — 21:25
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Robert,
    I find your post both timely and interesting. You raise a very important question, and it is one that, I believe, deserves much more care than it has been given (at least in my experience anyway). What I would like to do, in responding, is to select just one point you raise and try to begin to assess it. You ask:
    Third, assuming that philosophers in support of the petition will in fact personally attack someone who publicly defends the propriety of the APA’s position, is this behavior warranted?
    You suggest the answer to this question is ‘no’. This is an extremely good question and I want to generalize it. When is it ever appropriate to attack “a person”, verbally, when they assert that P?
    I scare quoted ‘a person’ since, though I haven’t read in full the Leiter thread, you are not concerned with attacking the view itself. Partial to philosophy as I am, I think any proposition P is worth attacking (arguing against) when one believes that P is false. But from this nothing follows about attacking the person who puts forward P. Let me quote another thing you wrote in an attempt to make a point.
    Of course, under such circumstances I don’t think it would be appropriate to use such language, even though I think it would be factually correct.
    You have used two different expressions in raising a point. You used ‘warranted’ and ‘appropriate’. I’m unsure whether these amount to the same thing. There are views that, when endorsed by a person, make them deserving of criticism. Take the racist as an example. If they believe that Blacks are intrinsically inferior to Whites and less deserving of moral consideration for being Black, then they deserve criticism. I think this is uncontroversial. But, a different question, is how to respond a person who puts forward a racist view. One might think they ought to be criticized (not simply their view) because they deserve criticism for holding it. Another view is that, even though they deserve criticism, one ought to “reason with them about the facts” since, by doing so, one would be more likely change their view which is, I think, false.
    So, it could be that it is appropriate to criticize someone for their views on homosexuality because it is deserved. But, at the same time, it could be unproductive to do so, since, as a matter of contingent fact, it would more likely achieve good consequences by reasoning with them. This is just to say: which features are relevant when criticizing a person for holding a bad view are of two kinds: (1) the consequences of so criticizing and (2) what is deserved. I’m inclined to say that we have two answers here. We should criticize them in one sense, but we should not, in another sense of ‘should’ or ‘ought’. And this simply assumes, for the sake of the argument, that reasoning about the facts is more likely to lead to better results.
    But I made an assumption that seems, at best, in need of support. For perhaps the best way to change somone’s views that make them deserving of criticism requires criticism of the person for holding the views in question. Do you have any reason for thinking otherwise? That’s one question.
    Another question is that, supposing that critcism of the person will not achieve the better results, do you think that criticizing the person, for holding a false view that makes them deserving of moral criticism, is inappropriate in this other sense?
    Like you, I’m skeptical of appealing to reactions of disgust. I’m disgusted by the idea of people having sex with animals, but, having considered the arguments, I’m not persuaded that there is anything wrong with having sex with animals. So, I’m hesitant to criticize someone for thinking that having sex with animals is okay. The same goes for homosexuality. I’m disgusted at people who would endorse such a policy as the Christian colleges, cited in the Leiter report, do. But I do think that they deserve criticism, not because they are disgusting for maintaining their policy, but because they have a false view which makes them deserving of criticism. So, in some sense, I think they are deserving of criticism, though criticizing them might not be the best way to make things better.
    This is to say that, in some sense, perhaps Anscombe is right. Such people deserve disgust. Defenders of the Christian colleges deserve disgust and criticism. But, pending the empirical facts, maybe we ought not express our disgust with them. We should try to reason with them.

    February 16, 2009 — 21:49
  • Thanks for this post. I am inclined to agree with just about everything you say.
    In particular, I agree that a lot of Christians are unable to give a satisfactory account of what makes same-sex sexual relations wrong.
    I don’t think this is something unique to sexual matters. Take a different sin: theft. Can I give a generally convincing argument that theft is wrong? Not really. To do that, I’d probably have to be able to either give an account of the institution of property, and of why this institution is one that we all must participate in or at least respect, or else I’d have to give an account of the authority of the state. I can’t do either, both because the issues fall in an area of philosophy I have no expertise in at all (political philosophy), and because the issues are really hard. I can offer a somewhat naive sketch of what I think makes theft be wrong, but I am not in a position to defend that sketch very well against an opponent who thinks theft isn’t wrong.
    And here something like Plantinga’s reformed epistemology seems appropriate. Whether or not a good argument can be given for the wrongness of theft, I do in fact have a truth-directed doxastic faculty which tells me that theft is wrong and which is correctly functioning. And the same may well be true with same-sex sexual relations.
    One might think that there is a lack of parallel, because there are no good positive arguments for the permissibility of theft to act as a defeater, while there are good positive arguments for the permissibility of same-sex sexual relations that should be defeaters for Christians. But as far as I know that is false. The only plausible arguments for the permissibility of same-sex sexual relations are autonomy-based or consequentialist arguments, and arguments from the presumption of permissibility (actions are presumed permissible unless shown not to be) coupled with responses to arguments against permissibility. The autonomy and consequentialist arguments are going to cut little ice with a deontologically minded theist. The presumption-of-permissibility arguments are not suitable to be a defeater.

    February 16, 2009 — 22:02
  • Robert Gressis

    Thanks for the response, Alex.
    First, I’m inclined to think that arguments arguing for the immorality of theft are going to be stronger than ones arguing for the immorality of homosexual sex. This is because almost everyone agrees that theft is wrong. Let me elaborate a bit: so far as I know, just about every well-known moral theory, including natural law theory and divine command ethics (is either of those what you meant when you wrote of the “deontologically minded theist”?) proscribes theft, whereas most theories on the table in the philosophical community do not condemn homosexuality. Because of that, it’s going to be a lot easier to quickly come up with arguments against theft, using every theory that has anything going for it, than it will be to come up with arguments against homosexuality.
    I tend to think that the ease with which one can come up with an argument, as well as the universality of a conclusion, is evidence that your conclusion is probably correct. Of course, there was a time when everyone thought homosexuality immoral, but I think that can be explained away.*
    Second, it’s not just that Christians have a hard time giving an account of homosexuality’s being wrong; it’s also that thinking it is wrong appears itself, from a Christian perspective, to be wrong. So it appears to me, anyway. My reasoning is this: being told that the way you want to express your feelings of romantic love is immoral probably takes a severe psychological toll on you. Moreover, other than homosexual sex being against natural law,** it’s hard to see how engaging in it hurts the person who engages in it. Indeed, refraining from it totally, especially when you don’t understand or can’t accept why, seems to me to be what incurs significant costs. Finally, one of the things that Jesus adds to natural law theory, I think, is that we are obligated to love our neighbors as ourselves. This seems to me, indeed, to go against what we’re naturally inclined to do. It also seems to be the most important of Jesus’ commandments, more important than any other deliverance of natural law.
    *–The idea is this: natural law theory, according to which homosexuality was unnatural, and so wrong, was the regnant moral theory in the west for thousands of years; this no doubt had effects on philosophers’ intuitions, such that most philosophers, who didn’t focus very much on homosexuality (even if they did think a lot about sex), were content to follow their intuitions, which were formed by natural law theory. Moreover, not only were those intuitions formed by natural law theory, but the heterosexual ones among them most likely found homosexual sex disgusting, which also made them content not to assess that intuition.
    **–Of course, the fact that someone is going against his function may itself count as a harm to him, but in many cases, going against one’s functions has a visible effect: there is a kind of disintegration of the personality that results–one is at odds with oneself. In the case of homosexuality, it seems that the prohibition on homosexual sex is what results in the person being at odds with himself, not the practice of it.

    February 16, 2009 — 23:31
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi, I just want to note that I didn’t realize I had to approve comments before they would appear. So, if it took some time for David’s and Christian’s comments to appear, it was purely my fault.

    February 17, 2009 — 0:16
  • Robert Gressis

    Christian Lee noticed, “You used ‘warranted’ and ‘appropriate’. I’m unsure whether these amount to the same thing.”
    Truth be told, I don’t remember how I was using them at the time. However, I do remember thinking, “gosh, what precisely do I mean here? Well, I don’t have time to figure it out right now.” And that’s where I left it. In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters, for I think that you highlight the important issues later in your comment.
    Going on to your other points: I think that criticism can be a fitting response to some kinds of beliefs, behaviors, and remarks. To focus on something more uncontroversial, criticism of someone is appropriate–it’s a fitting response to him–if he believes racist things. However, as you point out, it also depends on your goals: if you want to change that person’s beliefs, then you may want to refrain from criticizing him personally. (But this is an empirical question: some people may respond to personal criticism by changing their behavior, while others may get more set in their ways.)
    But I wanted to make the point that criticism of a person, even if fitting, is sometimes to be warned against even if criticism would make her more likely to change her views. There are at least two reasons for this.
    First, someone may change her views for the wrong reasons–she may change her views just to placate you, or because she’s scared of you, etc.; if so, you may not want to criticize her, because you want her to hold her views as a result of a reasoning process that she endorses.
    Second, though, there may be a value to a general norm of civility, at least in some contexts (by “general norm of civility”, I mean doing your best to hold your temper, avoid personally insulting remarks, etc.). If you’re really trying to get at the truth about an issue, and you’re reasoning with other, fallible human beings subject to the whole palette of human emotions, holding to the norm of civility will, I think, allow you to reason better. You can be more unencumbered in the kind of ideas you throw out there, and this makes you more likely to find out the truth about a matter.
    Obviously, civility has its downsides (I need to think more about what those may be, though). That’s why I think it’s good for some contexts and not others (I need to think more about just what contexts those are, though).

    February 17, 2009 — 0:34
  • Robert:
    The fact that theft can be argued against from the point of view of just about any major moral theory is an interesting fact. That fact, though, becomes somewhat less compelling when one realizes either all or all but one of these moral theories are false. πŸ™‚ Moreover, I think there is a more serious worry here. The major moral theories disagree on the foundations of morality, but they agree on the wrongness of theft. How to explain this agreement amidst disagreement? I think the most plausible explanation is that a constraint–explicit or implicit–on the generation of these moral theories was that they would prohibit murder, theft, etc.
    “being told that the way you want to express your feelings of romantic love is immoral probably takes a severe psychological toll on you. Moreover, other than homosexual sex being against natural law,** it’s hard to see how engaging in it hurts the person who engages in it. Indeed, refraining from it totally, especially when you don’t understand or can’t accept why, seems to me to be what incurs significant costs.”
    This is a prima facie plausible argument, and I think the plausibility of it helps explain why there is such animosity against the traditional Christian position.
    But I don’t think this argument is in the end particularly strong. It shows that it is publicly say that homosexual acts are wrong without sufficient reason to think this is true. But of course if Christian apologetics succeeds, and I think it does, then there is good reason to believe the teachings of scripture as interpreted by the Christian tradition.
    Moreover, the argument proves too much. For it applies in every case in which (a) x has romantic love for y, and (b) it is hard to see how, apart from natural law considerations, expressing this love sexually harms x or y or others.
    But there are cases that satisfy (a) and (b) where the sexual expression of that romantic love is, nonetheless, immoral. For instance, take the case of the German brother and sister who were raised apart, and who are willing to risk jail for the sake of their romantic love. Now, in their case they do have children with disabilities (and so (b) is not yet satisfied), but we can modify the case by imagining their situation in thirty years at which point they are no longer fertile.
    Moreover, there can be cases of adultery where (a) and (b) are satisfied. For instance, suppose Patricia is married to Mark, and they live in a jurisdiction where divorce requires mutual consent, abuse, or infidelity by the non-petitioning party. Patricia doesn’t love Mark, Mark doesn’t love Patricia, and Mark doesn’t care whether Patricia is faithful to him though he himself is faithful to her because he has no longer has any interest in sex with anybody, but for financial reasons Mark refuses to agree to divorce (maybe there is some inheritance one of whose conditions is Mark’s never divorcing). They have no children. Patricia loves Fred and Fred loves Patricia. It seems plausible that (a) and (b) are satisfied.
    And if one accepts the traditional Christian view that remarriage after divorce is always adulterous when there was a valid Christian marriage before the divorce and the first spouse is alive, then it’s even easier to generate large numbers of examples.
    The rarity of examples does not, I think, matter in an argument, like yours, based on charity.
    One might say that a relevant difference is that in the cases I’ve listed, the persons could love someone else where there wouldn’t be such a problem. So they are not barred from the sexual expression of love in general, as in the case of exclusive homosexuals, just in the particular case at hand. But that is cold comfort to them. For what romantic love pulls one to is not having sex with anyone that one is attracted to, but with a particular person. Being prevented from sexual expression of love with that particular person is the relevant hardship.
    That said, I don’t actually think anything other than heterosexual intercourse succeeds in generating the physical union that romantic love seeks. (And that’s not actually a natural law argument.)

    February 17, 2009 — 9:25
  • I forgot to say something that I thought was obvious but maybe wasn’t. πŸ™‚ If it’s a constraint on generating moral theories that they prohibit theft, then that all moral theories prohibit theft is not much evidence for the wrongness of theft. (It’s some evidence, in that it rules out the hypothesis that the claim that theft is wrong is so badly mistaken that there couldn’t be a moral theory that includes it.)

    February 17, 2009 — 11:43
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Robert,
    I agree with what you say. But I have a few reservations, but perhaps they will seem to be a digression. In any event, you wrote:
    First, someone may change her views for the wrong reasons–she may change her views just to placate you, or because she’s scared of you, etc.; if so, you may not want to criticize her, because you want her to hold her views as a result of a reasoning process that she endorses.
    I suppose this true. But I think I would rather have someone change their racist views, to take an example, for the wrong reasons rather than not changing them at all. I want her to endorse the right reasons, for then she would no longer be deserving of criticism for holding the view. But, nonetheless, focusing on the outcomes of the belief, I still would prefer her to change her view out of fear than to maintain the view.
    Second, though, there may be a value to a general norm of civility, at least in some contexts (by “general norm of civility”, I mean doing your best to hold your temper, avoid personally insulting remarks, etc.).
    I agree again. But I would also make the same point as I did above. There could be situations in which civility is not the right option. For perhaps insulting someone, belittling them, could be the best way to make them change their views. Perhaps it is the best way to get them to feel the moral repugnance in holding them. I don’t think we can rule this out a priori. I wouldn’t be surprised if, for some class of people who find homosexuality to be wrong, that they simply cannot be reasoned with about the view. But they can be made to feel bad for holding it.

    February 17, 2009 — 12:33
  • Christian:
    The concept of moral repugnance of beliefs is really interesting. I am inclined to think that a belief known to be true cannot be morally repugnant (there is a possible world where someone knows that all Poles are stupid, and that belief isn’t morally repugnant), though a belief can be morally repugnant despite being true (if someone believes that all Poles are stupid, despite never having received any evidence of this stupidity, her belief is morally repugnant even in a world where it happens to be true).
    These thoughts suggest that whether a belief is morally repugnant depends to a significant extent on the reasons for which it is held. (Note that there could be a context sensitivity here–it could be that racist beliefs need stronger evidence than their negations do.) If so, then in belittling someone in order to get her to stop believing a repugnant belief, one may well be compounding the irrationality that got her to the belief in the first place.
    Here’s a scenario. Francine grew up among racists, and they constantly belittled her when she failed to affirm racist claims. Eventually, she gave up, and accepted the racist claims. Then, Francine came among anti-racists, and they constantly belittled her when she failed to deny racist claims. Eventually, she gave up, and accepted the denials of the racist claims. There seems to be something rather problematic about what these anti-racists did. They replaced one set of irrationally held beliefs with another. Moreover, they have endangered their ability to criticize the belittlement that Francine got from the racists who initially got her to become a racist.
    By the way, Christian, if you think it’s repugnant to think homosexual acts to be wrong, I am curious which of the following claims you think are morally repugnant to believe:
    1. Sex is always morally wrong.
    2. Sexual acts not intended to lead to reproduction are always morally wrong.
    3. Sexual acts not of a sort capable of leading to reproduction are always morally wrong.
    4. Sexual acts done by a couple other than Adam and Eve are always morally wrong.
    5. Sex by a couple who knows they are infertile is always morally wrong.
    6. Sexual acts between persons of the same sex are always morally wrong.

    February 17, 2009 — 15:45
  • Billy McDoniel

    I agree with Christian so far. I also think that the moral repugnance of beliefs and the propriety of belittling people for holding particular beliefs are both context-dependent.
    To take the second first, there’s more to consider about a person holding a belief than just the value of believing for good reasons and the likelihood of good and bad reasons to change her mind. Perhaps it’s true that, in a vacuum, it’s better to do your best to make sure that people only change their minds for good reasons. But people act based on their beliefs, and some false beliefs lead to real harm (some true beliefs do too, but let’s leave that for now). If there’s a bomb on a bus a la Speed, it’s much better that the bus driver believe that he ought to keep the bus moving at more than 50 mph for silly reasons than that he believe that it’s okay to slow down (even if he believes this for good reasons). I’d even say that, in such a situation, you should offer reasons to the bus driver without giving any consideration to their quality – you should only care about how likely they are to get the driver to believe that he shouldn’t slow down.
    I think there’s a clear analogy here to racism/sexism (and, some would argue, to certain beliefs about homosexuality). We’re much better off now, but it seems to me that there was a time when it would have been better to have one more non-racist and one fewer racist no matter what reasons had actually convinced the person. Surely, if sustained belittling could have caused the deconversion of enough American racists to end slavery in the year 1800, that would have been a good thing to do. Given that there’s obviously nothing at all wrong with homosexuality or gay marriage, it’s at least plausible that, had more belittling of gay marriage opponents in California brought about the defeat of Prop 8, we’d be net better off (and not just in a consequentialist sense). Sure, it remains possible that it’s strategically a bad move (as Alexander says, this might weaken more rational criticisms), but I do think that strategic concerns ought to have more weight than concerns about the epistemic value of people’s beliefs when the population is as evenly divided as it is and when the issue is as politicized as this one is.
    For my part, I’m only tempted to call #6 repugnant (though I’m not quite sure on this one yet). My feeling is that a similar kind of context-dependence is at work here. If there was a politically powerful group of people who believed that “sex is always morally wrong” and who had some ability to enforce that belief, then I’d think that #1 was repugnant too. As it is, I’d just think that someone who held such a belief was being extremely silly. In short, I think that repugnance requires that the belief lead straightforwardly to harm to other people. If someone were to believe #6, but didn’t publicly argue for it and didn’t vote on it, etc, I wouldn’t be at all tempted to find it repugnant, I think. Likewise, if someone in our world believed #1 and went around castrating people, I’d find his belief that #1 repugnant (in addition to some of the other things he would believe).
    That’s also not to say that a person’s reasons for holding a belief don’t matter as to whether it’s repugnant, but I definitely consider more than justifiability, and don’t give justifiability much weight at all in many circumstances (or perhaps it’s that I can’t conceive of anything resembling a repugnant belief as being justifiable and so it’s never a difference-maker). I do agree that a true belief held for good reasons can’t be repugnant.

    February 17, 2009 — 20:14
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Alex,
    I think this is an extremely interesting topic. I have no settled views about which beliefs are morally repugnant. So, whatever gets conveyed in my tone, I’m really unsure what to say about many cases. You said:
    These thoughts suggest that whether a belief is morally repugnant depends to a significant extent on the reasons for which it is held.
    I agree with this and with what you said in the paragraph that preceded it. Repugnance is directed at people, and not beliefs or propositions. So, if repugnance is deserved, it is not merely for having a belief, it is for having a belief that is formed in a certain way. But you then say:
    If so, then in belittling someone in order to get her to stop believing a repugnant belief, one may well be compounding the irrationality that got her to the belief in the first place.
    Again, I agree. One could be compounding the irrationality. But, as well, one could be not compounding the irrationality. It all depends upon the person, and whether they are sensitive to reasons. This is an empirical question. I only want to claim that, for all I know, criticizing a person, rather than reasoning with them, is a better way to reform them. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people should be made fun of, rather than reasoned with, for holding certain false views.
    You said:
    There seems to be something rather problematic about what these anti-racists did. They replaced one set of irrationally held beliefs with another.
    Yes, again I agree. But I would add that even if what they did is problematic, it may well be justified, i.e., morally justified. Better to have Francine believe the truth for the wrong reasons than to have her believe what is false for the wrong reasons.
    You gave six claims and asked which are such that, were one to believe them, makes one morally repugnant for so believing. I say it all depends on the person: it all depends upon why they believe the claim in question. I think all of the claims are false, but that it is not sufficient for it to be the case that the person deserves repugnance for believing them. However, I would say that the fact that someone believes any of those claims is evidence that they deserve repugnance. The evidence could be defeated, of course.
    Someone could be programmed to believe homosexuality is wrong. They would not be deserving of repugnance. On the other hand, someone could arrive at that belief by ignoring reasons available to them, and they would be deserving of repugnance. My claim is that, there are alot of people in the latter category. There are people who believe homosexuality is wrong, who have ignored reasons that count against such a view, and they deserve repugnance. Moreover, perhaps the best way to get those people to change their beliefs is to be uncivilized, to belittle them, so that they might feel that their view is false.

    February 17, 2009 — 22:19
  • On Christian Higher Education

    There is an argument raging on Leiter Reports about the APA’s non-discrimination statement and the policies of certain Christian colleges and universities. Wheaton College, Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Calvin College, Malone College, a…

    February 18, 2009 — 1:13
  • Christian:
    I am actually a bit puzzled by confident talk of reasons that count against the belief that homosexual behavior is wrong. For in fact, the philosophical literature contains precious few well-developed arguments for the permissibility of same-sex sexual activity (sssa). And ones that there exist, are ones that Christians have very good reason to reject because if sound, they would entail the denial of things that Christians with good reason hold such as that sex requires marriage or that incest is always wrong.
    As far as I can tell (without too much bibliographic work), the intellectual quality of the philosophical arguments in favor of the permissibility of sssa is below the quality of the arguments against, or in favor of, the permissibility of abortion, and far below the quality of the arguments for or against the existence of God. There is no argument of the persuasive quality of Thomson’s or Marquis’ pieces on abortion; nothing of the persuasive quality of Rowe’s argument from evil or of Koons’ cosmological argument. And certainly there are no knock-down arguments of the sort that Goedel’s incompleteness theorem provides against positivism, that Kitcher’s counterexamples provide against Salmon’s mark-transmission theory of causation, or (to come further down the scale of philosophical prominence) that my and Elga’s counterexamples give to Lewis’s counterfactual arrow of time. πŸ™‚
    It would thus be philosophically irresponsible to think the issue is settled by the arguments in favor of the permissibility of sssa. The philosophical work on the question, at least in favor of permissibility (which is all that my argument needs; I happen to think there is more sophistication in the arguments against the permissibility of sssa by people like Wojtyla, Finnis and George, but even there, a lot more work needs to be done).
    Of course, there is some good work. For instance, John Corvino has a nice piece arguing that all the goods present in infertile opposite-sex sexual relationships are present in same-sex ones (and same-sex ones instantiate one more good). And Paul Weithman has a rigorous and careful critique of Finnis’ arguments against the permissibility of sssa. But Corvino’s piece at best only shifts the burden of proof somewhat, especially since similar arguments could be made on behalf of some instances of sibling incest (though I have the feeling from another piece of his that he thinks that adult consensual incest on a desert island could be OK). And the additional burden of proof can be met, because Corvino focuses on psychological-type goods, while the best opponents of sssa focus on the good of one-flesh union. Weithman’s piece is well-done indeed, but I think Finnis can get out of it with a bit of work. There is also a fair amount of work by people who haven’t taken the position they oppose seriously enough, who are content, say, to refute strawman versions of natural law arguments.
    There is also some work on developing general accounts of sexuality which, if correct, would as a consequence yield the permissibility of sssa. For instance Solomon’s communication account has this property. But, as is usual in arguments from general accounts, there are objections to these general accounts, they have consequences that are unpalatable (thus, Solomon’s account at least suggests that sex to express mutual dislike between uncommitted persons can be permissible), etc. These kinds of accounts cannot be taken to settle the issue. And, anyway, there are arguments of the same sort on the other side, such as Wojtyla/John Paul II’s development of a general account of sexuality in terms of self-giving, or (again to come far down from eminence) my own work focusing on forms of love and one-flesh union as the central concepts.
    And, of course, consequentialist moral theories pretty easily give arguments for the permissibility of some instances of same-sex sexual activity. But consequentialist moral theories also give arguments for the permissibility of at least some possible instances of rape (granted, these cases are much more outlandish). Autonomy-based theories might also be thought to yield arguments for the permissibility of some instances of sssa, but that is a controversial claim, as some of the most prominent recent opponents of sssa have argued that sssa’s are contrary to integrity (e.g., Finnis; cf. Kant’s underdeveloped argument that masturbation is contrary to self-respect).
    In any case, the philosophical arguments do not settle the issue in favor of the permissibility of sssa.
    Now, one might think that “obviousness” settles the issue. But obviousness is pretty useless in the context of discussion. It’s obvious to x that sssa is permissible, and it’s obvious to y that all climactic sexual acts that are not of reproductive-type are impermissible.
    And just as the defenders of sssa can argue that the feeling of obviousness the opponents have historically had can be explained away, so too the feeling of obviousness that defenders of sssa have can be very easily explained away. It can be explained away in terms of social factors involving the development of social mores in Western countries in the 1950s and 1960s. It can likewise be explained away by noting that the permissibility of sssa follows moderately obviously from the permissibility of birth control (or at least birth control whose modus operandi is not abstinence), whereas the obviousness of the permissibility of birth control can be explained away in terms of the convenience of birth control and the fact that many people in our culture have organized their sexual lives around the availability of birth control (to adapt what the Supreme Court has said about abortion). After all, that which one organizes one’s life around quickly comes to be felt to be obvious to those who organize their lives this way and maybe their friends as well. The game of explaining away feelings of obviousness can be played by both sides.

    February 18, 2009 — 9:07
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Alex,
    You raised alot of interesting points and I can’t get to all of them, but I’ll try to make it clear where I disagree and suggest a few reasons in support of my view.
    I am actually a bit puzzled by confident talk of reasons that count against the belief that homosexual behavior is wrong. For in fact, the philosophical literature contains precious few well-developed arguments for the permissibility of same-sex sexual activity (sssa).
    I confess not to know the literature. When I teach a unit on homosexuality, it usually involves only a few pieces, Levin and Jordan, alonside responses. Then I have my students read the official statement of the Catholic Church, and we discuss that. I then offer four arguments against sssa, that are relatively common, alongside responses to them. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you are correct in your assessment of the literature. And though I haven’t read it yet, perhaps “The Fundamental Argument for Same-Sex Marriage” by Ralph Wedgwood (1999), in the Journal of Political Philosophy is worth reading. I find him smart and his pieces well-argued.
    However, and more to the point, there are also precious few well-developed pieces arguing for the moral permissibility of eating lettuce sandwiches. I don’t find this to be at all a reason to doubt the permissibility of eating lettuce sandwiches. And, what’s more, if a certain theological tradition outlawed eating lettuce sandwiches, where the authors developed their view in great detail, I would still think it reasonable to believe that eating lettuce sandwiches is permissible. And so, what I’m saying is that I deny that this fact about what has been published on sssa is relevant to whether one should take it to be obvious that sssa is permissible.
    And ones that there exist, are ones that Christians have very good reason to reject because if sound, they would entail the denial of things that Christians with good reason hold such as that sex requires marriage or that incest is always wrong.
    I don’t think Christian’s have good reasons for holding that sex requires marriage or that incest is always wrong. I think their reasons are demonstrably bad. There are clear and decisive counterexamples to both claims. If two people, a heterosexual couple recently divorced, were stranded for the rest of their lives on a deserted island, it would be permissible for them to have sex. Or, if there were a society without a marrying tradition, perhaps ten-thousand years ago, it would be permissible for a heterosexual couple in that society to have sex. Moreover, we could imagine a case of two related individuals that, were they to have sex, would save the universe from annihilation. In such a case, it would be permissible for them to have sex. Finally, arguments that appeal either to the authority of the church, or some relegious text, to justify sssa prohibitions, also face decisive counterexamples. Both the Church and religious texts are unreliable. They contain or have asserted moral and factual errors of a most egregious kind, and so one is justified in believing they are unreliable, and so one has an undercutter for beliefs formed on their basis. The Bible, for example, condones slavery, genocide, unequal treatment to women, child abuse, and absurd forms of capital punishment. It is not to be trusted on moral matters.
    It would thus be philosophically irresponsible to think the issue is settled by the arguments in favor of the permissibility of sssa.
    Given what I said above you can see why I deny this. I think that the existence of a philosophical literature on the topic is not relevant. I think that appealing to a religious tradition in support of a prohibition on sssa is unsatisfactory, and I think that the burden of proof is on those who would deny that sssa is permissible. And, again, I think it is a Moorean fact that sssa is permissible. So, whether or not philosophical arguments settle the issue by supporting one side or the other, I think intuition does settle the issue well enough.
    That’s not to say that obviousness settles the issue. But, just as one cannot defeat the skeptic on her own terms, one cannot defeat the opponent of sssa if she doesn’t share enough of one’s intuitions. For example, I would claim that interracial sex is permissible and that race is not a morally relevant feature. Similarly, sex is not a morally relevant feature. If one were to deny this and to claim that race is a morally relevant feature, I can do no more. With such people I would have to part ways, and in a nod to Anscombe, simply respond with disgust. I suppose, though, that if I heard a good story that would count as an error theory for pro sssa intuitions, then I would put less trust in my intuitions that favor it. I would need to hear the story. My intuition is not related to a view on birth control though.
    Nonetheless, I have what strikes me as a sound argument for the permissibility of sssa.
    P1. Sexual relations between consenting heterosexual adults is permissible.
    P2. Sexual relations between consenting homosexual adults is relevantly similar to sexual relations between consenting heterosexual adults.
    C. Thus, sexual relations between consenting homosexual adults is permissible.
    The challenge, then, for my opponent is find a difference between the two cases that is morally relevant. I suggest she can find no such difference. Cases of infertile couples, those described above, interspecies sex, and others all tell against differences that might be brought up. It’s a long story, but I see no difference that will do the trick. There is another argument that strikes me as plausible.
    P1. Acting in such a way that one creates a benefit to oneself, without harming another, is permissible.
    P2. SSSA involves creating a benefit to oneself, without harming another.
    C, Thus, SSSA is permissible.
    Setting Consequentialist’s intuitions aside, which I have, this argument is good. And were one to deny it one the basis of Consequentialist reasons, then those very reasons would also establish the permissibility of SSSA or the impermissibility of most sex, even between consenting married adults. So, either way, it is a strong argument. So, not only do I think the arguments against sssa are bad, but I have two argument for it that are good. And I think it is a basic Moorean intuition that is likely to be more intuitive than the premises in any argument that aims to establish it.

    February 18, 2009 — 20:43
  • christian Lee

    Alex,
    I submitted a longish response a day or two ago, but it hasn’t posted. Not sure what happened.
    Please delete this if that longish response gets posted.

    February 19, 2009 — 23:04
  • Christian:
    Thanks for a careful response. Here are some points, not much in order, and some very minor.
    1. Two people on a desert island can easily get married. They just sincerely say to one another: “I take you as my spouse.” On the other hand, incest to save the world from destruction is wrong, just as rape or murder to save the world from destruction are.
    2. I think each item on your list of alleged egregious errors in the Christian tradition needs separate discussion. For instance, to condone is, roughly, to fail to condemn when condemnation is appropriate. But the Christian tradition does not claim that the Bible condemns everything that should be condemned. We think that what the Bible condemns, should be condemned, but not that everything that should be condemned is expressly condemned by the Bible (of course, in a sense everything wrong is forbidden by the Bible, in that the Bible condemns all sin, but the question is whether every sin is specifically forbidden). Thus it is quite possible to hold that everything the Bible teaches is true, but nonetheless there are things that Biblical authors should have condemned, but which they didn’t.
    Not all of the cases you mention, however, can be handled this easily. Still it is worth remembering that there are well-developed Jewish and Christian traditions of dealing with a lot of these issues, and others can be handled by analogy to them.
    3. I don’t see why a prohibition on lettuce sandwiches is significantly more problematic than a prohibition on ham sandwiches (unless the latter is part of a general prohibition on eating meat). But it does not appear to me to be at all an argument against Islam that it prohibits the eating of pork. God has the right to make requirements, and some of these may be apparently arbitrary, yet disciplinarily useful, just as a physical education teacher requires students to engage in various fairly arbitrarily chosen activities–she, say, requires her students to play dodgeball, even though another game would have done just as well.
    But as a matter of fact, I don’t think the prohibition against sssa is like the prohibition against pork.
    4. In your first argument for the permissibility of sssa, by “between heterosexual/homosexual adults”, I assume you respectively mean “between adults of the opposite/same sex”.
    Anyway, I think P1 lacks precision. What I and the Christian tradition grant is not P1, but something more like:
    P1*. Reproductive-type intercourse between consenting adults of the opposite sex married to each other is in and of itself permissible.
    To make the argument go through with P1*, you then need:
    P2*. At least one kind of sexual relation between consenting adults of the same sex married to each other is relevantly similar to reproductive-type intercourse between consenting adults of the opposite sex.
    But I and the Christian tradition deny P2*. Consider, for instance, oral sex as a fairly typical example of a sexual relation between same-sex adults. Now, we hold that oral sex is significantly different from reproductive-type intercourse. After all, we think oral sex (understood as a complete sexual act) is impermissible even for a married pair of consenting adults of the opposite sex.
    Moreover, we can give a bunch of different accounts for what at least some of the difference is. One that I like is that orgasm is the pleasure of mating; oral sex isn’t mating; thus, the orgasm in an instance of oral sex is a non-veridical pleasure–a pleasure torn apart from that activity that it is the pleasure of. Now you might think that this is not enough to make the activity wrong. But in any case, it is a difference, and it seems relevant. You probably deny my analysis of pleasure here, and maybe you even deny the whole cognitiveness of pleasure thing I am invoking. πŸ™‚
    On the other hand, your argument will have significant force against those Christians who have broken with Christian tradition and think that oral sex (say) is permissible for married opposite-sex couples, but who continue to maintain that all sex is wrong for same-sex couples.
    5. While sssa (and contraceptive sex and the like) produces some benefits to the agents involved, it also produces serious harms to them, namely distorts their view of the nature of erotic love, by making them feel that their eros is satisfied, whereas in fact it only appears to be satisfied (because there is no genuine one-flesh union). To justify this claim requires a lot of background. πŸ™‚ But likewise it would take a lot of work to justify the claim that there is no harm. So arguments like your second one also end up begging the question.
    6. The Levin piece is of low intellectual and lower empirical quality. I used it before, but I think there is a danger in using really weak pieces, in that they unfairly weaken a position. The piece is useful, though, as an illustration of some difficulties in making moral conclusions from evolutionary claims.
    7. By the way, the Wedgwood piece is not arguing for sssa being morally permissible, but for the state having to permit same-sex marriage. That is a question independent of the moral one (and one I care significantly less about).
    8. Claiming that it is a Moorean fact that sssa is permissible does not advance the discussion in the face of an opponent who says that it is a Moorean fact that these acts are impermissible. And just as the defender of sssa can call the other side a sceptic about the permissibility of an obviously permissible act, the opponent of sssa can call the other side a sceptic about the perversion of an obviously perverted act. Actually, I think there is an asymmetry here, though. The opponents of sssa accuse the defenders of sssa of failing to be sensitive to genuine moral differences (say, those between intercourse and oral-sex). The defenders of sssa accuse the opponents of sssa of “seeing” (in a non-factive sense) a difference where there is none. It is the latter that is more like a sceptical move. For the sceptic is not one who says: “There is something there that you don’t see but which I see.” Those who, in addition to the physical world, believe that there are angels moving around invisibly are not sceptics. The sceptic, rather, is one who says: “You seem to see something, but it’s not really there.” And it is this which the defender of sssa says to the opponent of sssa. Of course the same thing can be said by the opponents of inter-racial marriage–they can claim to have seen a moral difference that the other side was blind to. So we can’t settle moral questions simply on the basis of who is more like a sceptic.
    9. There is not much philosophical meat in the above comments. All the things I say are ones to which further answers can be given, and then I can respond to that, but probably this isn’t the right setting for that. So maybe we don’t want this discussion to continue right now. ( Maybe the best thing is to wait for my book on sexual ethics to come out. πŸ™‚ )
    But here is a somewhat interesting point that I’d like to hear what you think about. It seems to me that there are circumstances where Moorean moves are not appropriate. Suppose that my opponent has given me a very good argument that I have in fact taken a drug which would make me see two hands, whether or not the two hands are there or not. If I accept this argument, then I am on rather shakier ground in persisting in the Moorean move. Let’s just say that–I don’t want to commit myself further here (say, as to whether I could still know I have two hands).
    What is important about this case, is that the Moorean’s opponent has not merely offered an argument about some hypothetical possible world, say one containing an evil demon. The opponent has shown that there is very likely something about this world that makes this particular Moorean appeal shaky.
    Let’s say you think it’s obviously right to harm people of other tribes. Now I give you an evolutionary story that makes it plausible that this belief of yours could have arisen from causes independent of the truth of the belief–that there are evolutionary scenarios that might have done that. I think you don’t have be shaken very much at all, if at all, by this. But suppose I go one step further, and show that there in fact very likely obtained an evolutionary scenario which was sufficient to make it very probable that you would have this belief. Now, I think you should worry. Maybe there is still something to the Moorean move, but it’s clearly much weaker.
    Now the case of defenders of the sssa might well be like that. For one can give a likely true story about why one would expect people to start thinking that contraception is morally acceptable once convenient, effective and safe contraception became available. The story would involve the empirical fact that people like having sex in circumstances where having children is not an issue, and the empirical fact that if something is convenient, pleasant and doesn’t cause obvious physical harm to themselves or to people like them, people are very likely to start thinking that it’s OK (i.e., by and large people don’t worry much about spiritual problems when these are not on the surface). As a result, it is very likely that people in our society would come to think contraception is morally acceptable. Moreover, we can predict that, given what sex is like, people would organize their lives to a significant extent around the belief, and thus would come to see it as obvious. And of course it is very likely that people would come to think sssa is morally acceptable once they thought that contraception is morally acceptable, since there are very plausible arguments from the one claim to the other.
    This seems to me to be more like the case of the belief that one should harm people of other tribes, and the probably-correct evolutionary explanation of that (assuming for the sake of the illustration that there is one), than like the case of the belief that one has two hands, and the purely hypothetical sceptical scenarios.
    Of course, the defenders of sssa can make a very similar move. I actually think things can be said to deflect that move to some degree, but the general lesson is to be careful with obviousness in the face of a mutual ability to explain the feelings of obviousness away.

    February 20, 2009 — 16:53
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Alex:
    1. Two people on a desert island can easily get married. They just sincerely say to one another: “I take you as my spouse.” On the other hand, incest to save the world from destruction is wrong, just as rape or murder to save the world from destruction are.
    Suppose the woman and man cannot speak, they have terrible laringitis. I can’t get myself to accept the second claim.
    Still it is worth remembering that there are well-developed Jewish and Christian traditions of dealing with a lot of these issues, and others can be handled by analogy to them.
    I agree about the condemning point. I didn’t mean to suggest it was wrong. I mean that the Bible condones stoning disobedient children and homosexuals to death, and I think that is wrong. I’ve never heard a story according to which it would be plausible to count such claims as true. So I think the Bible is unreliable about moral matters.
    I don’t see why a prohibition on lettuce sandwiches is significantly more problematic than a prohibition on ham sandwiches (unless the latter is part of a general prohibition on eating meat).
    No, I didn’t mean to contrast lettuce with pork. I meant to contrast your argument with an analagous one to show it didn’t work. The idea is that it’s permissible to eat lettuce sandwiches and obviously so, and so, the lack of of philosophical literature on the matter, or the existence of a developed philosophical literature written by theologians against this, would not cast doubt on it. I say the same goes for homosexual sex.
    You changed my P1 to:
    P1*. Reproductive-type intercourse between consenting adults of the opposite sex married to each other is in and of itself permissible.
    I don’t accept this change since I don’t think reproduction has anything to do with the moral status of sex. Infertile couples can permissibly have sex though there behavior would not be reproductively oriented. I would also deny that oral sex is impermissible. A view which would make it impermissible would be shown to be false on that basis alone.
    You probably deny my analysis of pleasure here, and maybe you even deny the whole cognitiveness of pleasure thing I am invoking.
    Yep, I do:) Pleasure need not be representational and so it need not admit of veridicality.
    While sssa (and contraceptive sex and the like) produces some benefits to the agents involved, it also produces serious harms to them, namely distorts their view of the nature of erotic love, by making them feel that their eros is satisfied, whereas in fact it only appears to be satisfied (because there is no genuine one-flesh union).
    I don’t think it distorts their view. And however we cash out eros, if it is to have a normative component, I would claim it is satisfied and not distorted in sssa. About (6) and (7) I agree.
    8. Claiming that it is a Moorean fact that sssa is permissible does not advance the discussion in the face of an opponent who says that it is a Moorean fact that these acts are impermissible.
    I agree, but I didn’t mean it to advance the discussion. I mean only to make the point that, as with skepticism, it is reasonable not to be convinced by the kinds of arguments against sssa given that it is obvious that sssa is permissible. This won’t convince anybody who doesn’t find this claim obvious, agreed.
    Let me think about (9) for a bit and then get back to it!

    February 23, 2009 — 13:56
  • Christian:
    I take it from your remarks that you think that the following would be a cogent argument:
    1. It is permissible to eat lettuce sandwiches.
    2. If religion R is correct, then it is impermissible to eat lettuce sandwiches.
    3. Therefore, religion R is not a correct.
    But if this is a cogent argument, so should the following be (at least if you’re not convinced by arguments for vegetarianism):
    4. It is permissible to eat ham.
    5. If Islam is correct, then it is impermissible to eat ham.
    6. Therefore, Islam is not correct.
    But my intuition is that 4-6 is an entirely unconvincing argument against Islam. There are are good arguments against Islam, but this just is not one of them.
    This also seems somewhat parallel to the following bad argument. Start the following claim:
    7. Quine never said “Colorless frugal arguments flit validly at 33:89 pm.”
    I have very good reason prior reason to believe (7). There are many, many short nonsense sayings. Quine probably uttered some of them in his philosophical career, but the probability that he uttered the particular one given in (7) is very small.
    Next, however I come to know the following piece of data by:
    8. Lewis once said, “I distinctly heard Quine say: ‘Coloreless frugal arguments flit validly at 33:89 pm.'”
    I then infer:
    9. Lewis is a liar or has bad memory. (By 7 and 8)
    But this is a bad argument. Upon learning 8, absent other reason to think Lewis to be a liar or have bad memory, I should either reject or suspend judgment about 7. The reason for that is the kind of reason I had for believing 7 in the first place was some sort of default presumption (I am not an epistemologist, so I don’t know how to put this), and testimony to the contrary can defeat those. The same kind of default presumption gives me reason to believe 1 and 4, and again these are defeasible by testimony to the contrary. Or, at least, default presumptions of this sort are not defeaters for testimony.

    February 23, 2009 — 14:38
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Alex,
    But my intuition is that 4-6 is an entirely unconvincing argument against Islam. There are are good arguments against Islam, but this just is not one of them.
    I don’t really know what Islam says about eating ham, but if it does say it is impermissible, and if this is a core doctrine of Islam, then I would claim that your argument refutes Islam, full stop. Whether it is permissible to purchase ham is an entirely different matter.
    I agree that the second argument is bad. One should probably suspend judgment about (7). You won’t be surprised, I don’t think it’s relevantly like my argument. Plantinga puts the point well in his “Warranted Christian Belief”. He offers a case where, roughly, he believes that lying about a colleague to get a promotion would be wrong. He then learns that nearly everyone else disagrees with him. He asks: should I suspend judgment about my conviction in light of this disagreement? He answers ‘No’. I agree with Plantinga and would apply the point to sssa. I don’t think the same holds for the belief involved in (7).
    In fact, I might even go so far as say that if God himself broke open the clouds and spoke in everyone’s mind at the same time “homosexual sex is wrong”, then I would still not change my mind. I would probably conclude, rather, that God isn’t as good a person as people think He is. Anyway, it’s for reasons like these that I call the belief Moorean, though that may be a misleading term in this context. That’s not to say I’m not willing to listen to arguments. I’ve just never heard one that has struck me as even slightly convincing.
    Okay, returning to an earlier point you made:
    But suppose I go one step further, and show that there in fact very likely obtained an evolutionary scenario which was sufficient to make it very probable that you would have this belief. Now, I think you should worry. Maybe there is still something to the Moorean move, but it’s clearly much weaker.
    I don’t know why you think this: Is the idea that a belief forming mechanism brought about by evolution is not truth-tracking, but only works on adaptive behavior? Maybe, I guess I’d have to hear a story, but it initially seems false. My beliefs are brought about by evolution and they are all true:)
    But, seriously, this isn’t your point. I realize that if there is a story that is very probably true and explains why we would hold our pro sssa beliefs, even were they to be false–then one would have a defeater for those beliefs. I would like to hear the details stated in terms of probabilities, but that aside, I don’t think the contraception story you told is going to do the trick. Like I said, my beliefs about sssa are entirley independent of my beliefs about contraception. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the theist himself thought they had a common cause via projecting his beliefs onto his opponent. They have a common cause amongst many theists qua being prohibited by the Church. For most pro sssa people, I suspect their pro sssa beliefs have nothing like a common cause. For some, they may think “sssa is okay because my homosexual friends are good people”. Others, adopt the liberal view and see it as a key piece of being “above the rest” (I’m no fan of this view). Others think, “well, if it makes them happy”. Others think, “It’s private” or “Elen is gay and she’s funny” and so on. All sorts of different reasons, and like I said, I suspect there is nothing like a common cause that would be relevantly similar to the evolutionary undercutters you mentioned. Anyway, the way I get my belief is through intuition. I’ve done a thorough self-exam for biases. I’m clean. So, I don’t think the contraception story would work for me, even if something like your story happened to be true for some others. I’m not making any claims about whether other people are justified in holding pro sssa views. They probably aren’t.

    February 24, 2009 — 0:13
  • 1. Hard to argue with just pure intuition. πŸ™‚ But for what it’s worth, my picture of the moral life is this. By default, actions are permissible. But they become impermissible when they violate some duty. I think of a duty as something positive, and I think a good deal of personal/social moral progress consists in discovering duties that one/society didn’t notice earlier, such as the duty not to enslave members of other tribes, the duty to feed the hungry, a duty to treat people of other races equally, etc. I do not think we are ever justified in saying we have on hand a complete list of duties. (That doesn’t mean that the duties are not unified. They all, I think, spring from a single principle, love. But just as from a single axioms an infinity of theorems flows, so from that single duty, and infinity of duties flows.)
    To be justified in saying that something is permissible, I have to be justified in saying that there is no duty to the contrary. But my knowledge of duties is never complete. There are always more duties waiting to be discovered. Thus, a judgment of permissibility is a universal negative generalization: There is no duty D that action A is contrary to. And except in the case where it flows from a judgment of indefeasible duty or from divine revelation, this is always provisional, because there is always the possibility that we will discover a duty that the action in question is contrary to.
    To be strongly (i.e., in a sense that defeats, say, testimony) justified by intuition in saying that something is permissible would be like being justified by intuition in saying that there are no unicorns or ghosts anywhere in the universe.
    Here, for instance, is a move that might help to see what I’m getting it. This move won’t work for classes of actions, but will work for token actions. Take any token action, say scratching my head. Our world is full of chaos. Chaos amplifies effects. For all we know, the human race will continue in existence for thousands of years. Over these thousands of years, if our world is full of chaos, it is quite possible that scratching my head could cause a giant earthquake, say in 500 years, killing thousands. I have no reason to think it will. I have, I suppose, a default presumption that it won’t. But if a super-smart alien scientist were to tell me so, it wouldn’t surprise me. And of course it’s wrong to scratch one’s head when it kills thousands. So, it’s quite possible that a particular token of scratching my head is wrong. And no amount of intuition will be sufficient to definitively rule out this possibility, since it depends on the de facto causal structure of this world. Now, this only works for particular token actions, and it would be much more surprising if every instance of head-scratching were to cause the earthquake.
    2. I think it may be harder to escape the biases of surrounding culture than you suggest. It is very easy to see as obviously permissible that which the intellectual culture one is in accepts as uncontroversially permissible. I do, for instance, suspect that if we lived in another time, we would find sexist behaviors obviously permissible. This is another reason to worry about direct intuitions of permissibility.

    February 24, 2009 — 7:35
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Alex,
    Hard to argue with just pure intuition
    Well, I hope it doesn’t sound as though I’m only suggesting the view that sssa is impermissible is counterintuitive. I think it follows from a general view connecting permissibility and harm, and that it’s morally similar to heterosexual relations. You find a difference in that sssa, and not the other (suitably described), is condemned by the Church. I claim this is not a relevant difference because (a) the Church is unreliable and (b) even if it were reliable, it would be more reasonable to reject the Church’s claim than the intuition. You think we can explain away the examples I would appeal to to support (a). If you don’t share the intuition, then (b) will not be an option for you.
    When stalemates happen in this area I like to ask people: Give me some examples of moral propositions that, were the Church to assert them, you would be justified in denying the authority of the Church with respect to them. If claims about sssa don’t work for you, then what if the Church asserted that we must sacrifice our first born, that it would be wrong not to. What if they asserted that it is impermissible to let women talk in public or that we must all ride goats to work? Would you then reject the Church’s position, or would you still maintain that the relevant intuition is not strong enough?
    Better yet: Can you come up with a principle for distinguishing those claims that, were the Church to assert them, you would be justified in believing the Church is simply mistaken, and those that, if the Church were to assert them, then those claims should be accepted?
    To be strongly (i.e., in a sense that defeats, say, testimony) justified by intuition in saying that something is permissible would be like being justified by intuition in saying that there are no unicorns or ghosts anywhere in the universe.
    Mike Huemer has a nice discussion of this kind of issue in his “Ethical Intuitionism”. I for the most part agree with him. I would count those claims above differently: I’m not justified in believing there are no unicorns anywhere in the universe. But, I do think I’m justified in believing it’s wrong to torture babies for fun. I think I’m justified in believing it’s permissible to eat a lettuce sandwhich. That’s not to say that I don’t have serious doubts about just how widely we should appeal to intuition, especially with respect to moral matters.
    A book on sexual ethics? Nice. Pictures included?

    February 24, 2009 — 12:07
  • 1. I don’t think there is much of a fact of the matter about the counterfactuals about what I’d believe if the Church affirmed something.
    I am inclined to think that there is no possible world in which the Church teaches (in the full magisterial sense) anything false. This follows from the nature of the Church as the body of Christ. There are, of course, possible worlds where there are institutions like the Church in which that institution teaches something false. But those possible worlds are ones where I would be in a different epistemic situation, because they are worlds in which I wouldn’t be receiving the divine grace of faith in what the Church teaches. In light of this, I take your counterfactuals to be per impossibile ones, and I don’t really know what to make of those in general.
    2. It makes more sense, however, to ask the following question: “Which teachings are such that if an institution otherwise like the Church had made them, the apologetic arguments for the institution’s infallibility would thereby be defeated?”
    I think it would depend, in part, on what reasons the institution cited for the prohibition. It would also depend on whether this was a case where (a) I believed something was permissible and the institution taught it was wrong, or a case where (b) I believed something was wrong and the institution taught that it was permissible. In case (b), the evidence against the institution teaching would be much stronger than in case (a). In both cases, there would also be the question of how well the teaching cohered with the institution’s other teachings.
    I am entirely untroubled by the obligation to ride goats to work. I can easily imagine facts against which I have no evidence except default presumptions such that if these facts were true, we would have such an obligation. Thus, if it turned out that the main telos of the goat species was conveying each of us to work, and that there was a duty of stewardship to make it possible for other species to achieve their telos, then there might well be such a duty. There are also possible worlds where it would be perfectly reasonable for God to prohibit men from speaking in public, except in emergencies (otherwise, there is a conflict with a duty). For instance, think of a world where men had some deep spiritual failing which could best be treated through public silence. And it could well be that this failing would be one that we wouldn’t know about. And likewise there is a possible world where women have such a deep spiritual failing.
    3. I think we’re justified in believing it’s wrong to torture babies for fun, and the justification involves more than a default presumption. I also think we’re justified in believing that it’s permissible to eat a lettuce sandwich, but this is just a default presumption.
    Consider, for instance, the following hypothesis: All lettuces are inhabited by very, very tiny rational beings, of a size below the resolving ability of electron microscopes, to whom our digestive tract is poisonous. I think we have some evidence against this hypothesis. E.g., none of the animals whose brains are smaller than a grain of sand seem to be very smart.
    However, while the hypothesis is outlandish, the secular evidence against it is not all that strong. If an apparently honest and apparently competent scientist told me that instruments that work on a scale much smaller than that one which electron microscopes work have detected life made up of quark configurations, I would be initially sceptical, but I shouldn’t really dismiss this out of hand. If, further, it turned out that some of these life-forms were intelligent, and that they had a strong preference for living in lettuces (maybe an esthetic one), this would be really weird. But I am not at all sure I would have reason to dismiss it just because of that weirdness. Bacteria and viruses were a weird enough discovery as it was! And, of course, if it were like this, it would be wrong to eat lettuces.
    4. Of course all the above is only relevant on the assumption that there are no good independent arguments against sssa. I think there are very good independent arguments against sssa. πŸ™‚

    February 24, 2009 — 15:25
  • Christian Lee

    We’ve gone down an interesting path.
    I am inclined to think that there is no possible world in which the Church teaches (in the full magisterial sense) anything false. This follows from the nature of the Church as the body of Christ.
    I don’t know what ‘the full magisterial sense’ is, but are you turning ‘teaching p’ into a factive verb via stipulation? If so, I don’t mean teaching in that sense. What I mean is teaching in the sense of ‘asserting p under a reaonable interpretation of the sentence used to express p in the context in which that assertion occurs’. That is clearly not factive.
    I also don’t how a Church could literally be a body of Christ, and not even in a metaphorical sense. I think God could assert that P even were P false, supposing he had a good reason to. As van Inwagen has suggested, maybe the Bibblical story of creation is clearly false, but that God inspired someone to write it because it conveyed something true and important. It conveyed that He created everything according to His purposes, and that we are important to Him. The myth was the best way to convey this message in a way that was accessible to people, since, had He told the true story, nobody could understand it. That’s a case of teaching P, where P is false. If God could do it, presumably the Church could as well.
    I think it’s easy to evaluate per impossible counterfactuals, at least some of them. It is true that were God to exist, then God would exist. But, if you have theistic tendencies, then consider, were God not to exist, then God would not exist. If counterfactuals have truth values, these are clear cases of true per impossible counterfactuals.
    In case (b), the evidence against the institution teaching would be much stronger than in case (a).
    I’m not seeing the difference between (a) and (b). If an institution otherwise like the Church taught that it was permissible to torture babies for fun that would be just as obviously false as were the Church to teach that it is wrong not to torture babies for fun.
    I am entirely untroubled by the obligation to ride goats to work. I can easily imagine facts against which I have no evidence except default presumptions such that if these facts were true, we would have such an obligation.
    Okay. Fix the actual facts as you take them. Are you saying that, were the Church to assert that it is wrong not to ride goats to work, then you would simply go with their verdict and aim to purchase a goat and saddle?
    For instance, think of a world where men had some deep spiritual failing which could best be treated through public silence. And it could well be that this failing would be one that we wouldn’t know about. And likewise there is a possible world where women have such a deep spiritual failing.
    Same point. Fix the actual facts as you take them. If the Church taugh that women must remain silent in public, would you think that it would be wrong for women to talk in public? I’m not denying that it’s possible for it to be wrong for women to talk in public. We could imagine a ticking bomb scenario to make the point. I’m asking whether, given what we have to go on, given what we reasonable take to be the case, do you actually think that, were the Church to prohibit women from talking in public, that this would be morally required of women?
    I think we’re justified in believing it’s wrong to torture babies for fun, and the justification involves more than a default presumption. I also think we’re justified in believing that it’s permissible to eat a lettuce sandwich, but this is just a default presumption.
    Good. What’s the difference? Isn’t it simply that, for you, the first is clearly true, but the latter depends upon contingent facts you think could turn out to be false. Well, couldn’t babies turn out to express pain behavior when they are actually happy? Couldn’t it turn out that our taking fun in a babies pain is intimately linked to our moral development? It’s possible. At any rate, you can see that I think that the permissibility of sssa is on a par with the impermissibility of torturing babies for fun, while in both cases I accept that it’s possible that both could be justified for some strange reasons. Nevertheless, I think it’s reasonable to believe we shouldn’t torture babies or discriminate against homosexuals.
    Thus, I accept your point about lettuce. It could turn out to be wrong, but nevertheless, we can reasonably believe that it won’t turn out to be wrong. I say the same goes for sssa.
    4. Of course all the above is only relevant on the assumption that there are no good independent arguments against sssa. I think there are very good independent arguments against sssa. πŸ™‚
    What do you have in mind? I can’t think of any that don’t take on some theological asumption, do you have one in mind that doesn’t?

    February 24, 2009 — 20:24
  • 1. You’re right: I didn’t distinguish the (a) and (b) cases sufficiently. I should have said “(a) I believed something was merely permissible and the institution taught it was wrong, or a case where (b) I believed something was wrong and the institution taught that it was at least permissible.” Here, “merely permissible” means “permissible but not obligatory”, and “at least permissible” means “permissible or obligatory”. So both the institution that teaches that baby-torture is permissible and the institution that teaches that to refrain from it is wrong are cases of type (b) (since to refrain from A is wrong holds iff it is obligatory to A).
    2. Fixing all the facts, yes, of course, I’d buy a goat (and I guess a saddle, too, as that’d be more comfortable for everyone) and I’d be silent were I woman.
    3. I am not taking “teaching p” to be factive. I am just expressing the infallibility of the Church. I restrict this to matters of faith and morals, though.
    4. On van Inwagen’s story, God is lying, and lying is always wrong. The action is just as clearly wrong as it is would be to tell children that Santa Claus brings their presents without having first explained that that’s just a story that has spiritual truths in it. πŸ™‚

    February 25, 2009 — 7:45
  • Christian Lee

    Thanks for chatting Alex.
    I don’t have much more to say. Your defense seems to rely heavily on the the claim that the Church is infallible with respect to faith and morals. Maybe you could post an argument for this sometime.
    Best,
    C

    February 26, 2009 — 13:15
  • John

    “On van Inwagen’s story, God is lying”
    This isn’t true. Was Shakespeare lying? God had no intention to deceive on van Inwagen’s story, and for that matter God didn’t assert the propositions semantically expressed by the sentences in Genesis. Was Moses lying? I shouldn’t think so, unless Moses intended to deceive.

    February 27, 2009 — 21:12
  • Gordon Knight

    Myths don’t lie, they tell a truth in a different way.
    At first I thought the reference was to Van Inwagen’s “body snatcher” story.. which, if true, would be a case of God being a deceiver!

    February 28, 2009 — 10:37
  • As an amateur political philosopher this is extremely interesting to me because it gets down to what I believe are the important bits of philosophy: Answering the question “what now?”
    I intend to address the OP instead of the learned responses.
    First, why, other than the obvious ad hominem argument (what kind of evil freak would do that?), is necrophilia wrong? I can answer this in short order. One of the properties of the good thing known as sex is that it requires consent. Nonconsensual sex is commonly taken to be wrong and is rebranded “rape,” “bestiality,” “pedophilia,” “sexual assault” or “sex slavery.” A corpse has no effective way to consent to sexual advances, so sex with a corpse cannot be consensual. Therefore it is not the good kind of sex, but wrong sex: Necrophilia.
    There’s another reason sex with the dead is bad. It is abuse of the body of a formerly living human, and thus a crime against property, giving us two reasons to reject it. This gives me an excuse to introduce property rights into the argument, so here goes.
    Any moral theory stands on principle, and the most basic principle for Americans, and also for Christians at least of the Catholic persuasion (I don’t care to debate predestinationists on this topic), is inalienable free will in conjunction with free action, the freely assumed obligation to obey God the Creator’s moral principles, and inalienable responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. Let’s call this principle Liberty.
    Liberty requires that a person owns himself, the product of his labor, and his improvements to the freely obtained blessings of nature. His self-ownership is inalienable, or not severable by any means, and thus we reject slavery as always wrong. This is true for all of us, male and female (despite my old fashioned preferences on language). Nobody has the right to infringe on the rights of any other. Any infringement on these requirements steals away some of his life, labor, or ability to choose freely. Slavery violates Liberty, as does theft, as does murder, vandalism, and even slander and libel (the kind of falsehoods that “thou shalt not lie” warns against). Liberty also leads to a theory of contract by which it is possible to voluntarily transfer ownership of something between two persons or entities. Nobody can rightfully sell your future labor, thus selling you into slavery, or anything else about you without your consent. That is wrong. The theory of inalienable rights including property rights found in the US Declaration of Independence (and Jefferson’s constitution for Virginia) is the clearest way to defend people against slavery, which is historically speaking the most commonly excused offense against Liberty.
    I hope that isn’t too clumsy an introduction to property rights for all the professional disputers in the audience. I hope it also explains why property rights and Liberty are useful principles which everyone should follow. Namely, they prevent slavery, necrophilia of your and your spouse’s or child’s corpse, and many other vile things that you wouldn’t want to happen. Judging from what happened in places where God’s moral principles were rejected and property rights were routinely broken, such as the socialist “paradises” of the USSR, Cuba and the PRC, dictatorship (which is mass slavery by another name), genocide, mass murder over political whims, loss of the right to travel, and denial of free speech follow the repeal of property rights in short order, if other traditional (Christian) protections are lacking.
    The third major objection to necrophilia, and possibly a mechanism to explain why necrophilia is traditionally shunned, is the pragmatic responsibility to survive and help others to survive. A society that engages in necrophilia instead of normal, heterosexual sex will have a lower population growth than an exclusively, or mostly exclusively, heterosexual populace. And over years and generations, small differences in population growth lead to huge differences in populations. Huge differences in populations lead to conquest of the weaker society and destruction of its losing value system. History isn’t over. It never is. We will only reach paradise in the afterlife, not on earth. And conquests may not be in our recent past as Americans, but they will happen again. Better to be strong than weak and all that.
    Extending the historically pragmatic argument to other moral questions raised in the comments is trivially easy. I’ll leave it at that.
    Cheers,
    Beaglescout

    March 2, 2009 — 0:18